THE Latrobe Valley will lose a “cherished piece” of its cultural landscape by the year’s end, after the shock announcement PowerWorks was closing the doors to its Morwell visitor centre.
The closure, slated for 21 December, has been largely blamed on a tourism exodus in the brown coal sector, in which local mines and power stations saw a 50 per cent drop in visitors over the past four years.
Despite injections of almost $4 million dollars over the past decade from shareholders International Power-GDF SUEZ Hazelwood, AGL Loy Yang and Yallourn’s owners EnergyAustralia, the facility had recorded losses of more than $660,000 over the last two years.
General manager Marcus Fraser said it was not a decision taken lightly.
“We’ve been working towards saving this place for the last 12 to 18 months; in the last two weeks we were still hoping to attract funds,” Mr Fraser said.
“This is a really hard day because I’ve spent most of my time trying to keep the place afloat – we’ve had a lot of staff who’ve been here for many years, including two workers who have been here for 17 and 22 years.”
This comes despite the State Government’s $9600 PowerWorks Future Directions Strategy announced in June, which aimed to determine a preferred future business model for the business to meet stakeholder objectives.
Opened in 1994 after an extensive refurbishment of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria’s visitors’ centre, PowerWorks has hosted a raft of school trips and family visits as the public access point for the brown coal power industry.
Latrobe City chief executive Paul Buckley said PowerWorks had become a Latrobe Valley “institution” over the years, and it was disappointing the board had come to this decision.
Having visited the centre numerous times through school excursions at St Vincents Primary School and Moe Secondary College (now Lowanna College), Mr Buckley said PowerWorks would be sorely missed.
“There’s no denying a lot of people in the Valley have a sentimental attachment to the place,” Mr Buckley said.
Latrobe City Business Tourism Association acting chair Terry Sumner said while the announcement came as a complete surprise, there were clear reasons for the centre’s demise.
“I think as technology has moved on, PowerWorks hasn’t kept up with that change – educational facilities like Scienceworks have had real good bells and whistles, which comes from the money you put in,” Mr Sumner said.
“The widespread movement into alternative power generations means (PowerWorks) should have been exhibiting other forms of generation in their exhibits.
“Unfortunately brown coal has a bit of a stigma attached to it, which probably attributed to its fall in popularity.”
On The Express’ Facebook page, reader Ange Davey said she had been thinking of taking her kids to PowerWorks.
“I went with school at about grade four and had a great time looking at all the power stations and seeing how it worked. How sad,” Ms Davey said.